CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. -- Church of the Epiphany has been a cornerstone in the community of Cliffside Park for 100 years. This year, the church has been celebrating its long tenure.
The church property at 247 Knox Ave. in Cliffside Park was purchased in 1915, and was the first parish in the Archdiocese of Newark to be named “Epiphany.” It earned the name because it was purchased on the Feast of Epiphany on Jan. 6, 1915.
Construction began in September 1916, and concluded in December. The first Mass was celebrated on May 17, 1917, and the first collection amounted to $300.
Under the leadership of Monsignor Anthony Ferretti, Church of the Epiphany grew in prominence, service and stature within the community. Ferretti was a pioneer in spreading Catholicism in Bergen County, and was instrumental in the foundational years of two other Catholic churches in Bergen County.
Monsignor Ferretti found a home at Church of the Epiphany, where he served as pastor from 1916-1957. He remains the longest tenured pastor in the history of the church, which has only had six in its history. Current pastor Ken Evans took over in 2011, replacing Rev. Donald Dipasquale.
Under Ferretti, the parish grew swiftly and had approximately 2,100 adults and 500 children in its ministry by the late 1920s. Rev. John Henry Banks joined Ferretti as an assistant in 1927, and remained with the church until his death in 1951.
Epiphany Church added a school in early 1930, and it opened in September of that year. Banks became the church administrator in 1936 after a massive stroke incapacitated Ferretti, and he led the parish for the next 12 years. “Father Banks administered and looked after the needs of the parish in the noblest traditions of Father Ferretti,’’ according to a history on the church website. “Those who had the pleasure of knowing him, can speak volumes of his fine qualities and noble traits…He had a heart full of charity for God’s poor, and it was a common sight to see his car loaded down during the lean years of the depression; with food and clothing, he brought treasured assistance to his people in need. It is a known fact and often spoken of, that he gave his personal clothing to those who asked his assistance.”
Ferretti died in 1957, but the church continued to thrive within the community. Rev. William Sesselman took over as the Epiphany pastor in 1957, and brought energy to the church with an assortment of projects. He expanded the school parking lot and playground, purchased a new pipe organ (still in use at the church today) and spearheaded a capital campaign to build an addition at the school.
Parish membership reached 2,600 in the mid 1960s, and more than 800 students attended Epiphany School. By the 1970s, there were more than 2,700 families registered at Epiphany with more than 500 students in the school.
After Sesselman resigned in 1975 -- as only the second pastor in the church’s 59-year history -- Archbishop Peter Gerety appointed a Team Ministry consisting of three priests to govern Epiphany. Instead of having one pastor as the sole leader of the parish, three priests were appointed, each with the same pastoral authority. That arrangement lasted until 1989, when Rev. John Tully became the church’s third pastor.
While the church remained popular with families -- it reported nearly 2,400 registered families in 1992 -- Epiphany School saw a decline in students. It finally closed in 2005 after 75 years. Rev. Dipasquale helped initiate a campaign to redesign the church and make it more contemporary in early 2009. It was finished in August of that year.
Under Evans’ leadership, the church has continued to update and modernize its facility while also developing the Epiphany Parish Heritage Fund – a financial account to support the physical necessities of the buildings in the parish compound.
Among the church's most noted congregants was former Cliffside Park Mayor Gerald Calabrese, who died last year at age 90. Calabrese, a former basketball star at St. John's University who also played in the professional ranks, served as Cliffside Park's Mayor from 1965-2015.
Over the church's 100 years, it has conducted 8,726 baptisms, 7,693 First Communions, 6,319 confirmations, 5,248 marriages and 5,398 funerals.
The church celebrated its 100 year anniversary this year with an assortment of events, including a gala in May. It will also hold a Christmas Dinner Dance.
The church has a variety of ministries, including bereavement, Bible study, Ministry to the Sick and Homebound and two choirs. It also has a food pantry.
Epiphany Parish is one of four parishes that co-sponsor Christ the Teacher Interparochial School, located in Fort Lee, New Jersey.